Literary Devices and Short Stories In Exploring Relationship Issues   by Samy Lazzouzi

Literary Devices and Short Stories In Exploring Relationship Issues   by Samy Lazzouzi

     It is common for people to experience distress when discussing or recalling traumatic events. The opposite, being total disinterest, can also happen when a story feels fake and manufactured. Techniques do exist, however, that allow writers to approach what are frequently very tough topics with greater ease. “Reunion” by John Cheever stands out as a deeply melancholic narrative expertly wrapped in a seemingly lighter tale through the use of numerous literary devices and writing tactics. To be more specific, the author employs irony, indirect characterization, and the first-person point of view to make the event feel both more real and less mentally taxing at the same time.

Firstly, John Cheever makes use of irony mostly as a humorous way to banalize what is probably a life-defining experience for the protagonist. This can be seen at many points in the story, including the title itself. “Reunion” is ironic as the name actually subverts the expectations of the reader directly in the first sentence, where the son declares that “[t]he last time [he] saw [his] father was in Grand Central Station” (Cheever 1). But again, even this seemingly ominous statement also turns out to be ironic, as the reason why he never sees him again isn’t some grand tragedy, as it is implied that the boy simply decides to never speak to him again: “‘Goodbye, Daddy,’ I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father” (7). Ironically enough, it is this not-so-touching reunion that separates them for good, despite Charlie’s best wishes: “I hoped that someone would see us together. I wished that we could be photographed. I wanted some record of our having been together” (1). The clever use of irony here reinforces how this event was probably as unexpected and shocking to Charlie as it is for the readers, while the humour in the writing keeps it lighthearted enough to remain a good source of coping for both the narrator and for readers who may have encountered similar situations.

Moreover, the author goes out of his way to describe characters through their actions, rather than through direct characterization, to enable the readers to make up their own conclusions of the characters involved. Cheever consciously decides to specify that the father’s “secretary wrote to say that he would meet [the boy] at the information booth at noon” (Cheever, 1) and that his father had a scent of “a rich compound of whiskey” (1) instead of simply stating that he was wealthy, bad at communication–which also foreshadows the lack of meaningful conversation during their reunion–and enjoys drinking. This allows for more natural writing and fewer exposition dumps, but also feels more immersive, as we can see the root of the relationship’s issues instead of being told about them. This same indirect characterization is used to show that his father is quite well educated as he speaks English, French, German and Italian when addressing the waiters–“‘Kellner!’ he shouted. ‘Garçon’ Cameriere! You!’” (1)–while simultaneously being disrespectful, asking the newspaper attendant for one of their “God-damned, no-good, ten-cent afternoon papers’” (4). This in turn makes the readers feel how uncomfortable Charlie feels during this whole situation; the chapters also get physically shorter, proving he is losing hope as a narrator, showing how the short form story can engage a reader to ‘feel’ the consequences of neglect.

    Finally, the form of narration chosen for this short story lets us more easily understand Charlie’s expectations, disappointments, and feelings. At the start of the story, he is very hopeful but already knows of his father’s shortcomings, as he states that, “as soon as I saw him I felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom” (1). Here we see that Charlie has hope for a father figure and yet this idolization does not prevent him from noticing his shortcomings. However, Charlie is quickly confronted with his father’s true nature, and describes his drunkenness as a “boisterousness in the empty restaurant [that] seemed out of place” (1). As his dad starts picking more and more fights with strangers, readers feel the alienation that Charlie must feel. This is where the first-person point of view shines, allowing readers to put themselves in the young child’s shoes and feel the second-hand embarrassment, without Cheever ever revealing what the narrator really feels like in this situation. At the tail end of their reunion, we finally see Charlie exchanging words with his dad, although they remain cursory and withheld, from “I have to get my train” and “That’s all right, Daddy” (6), to “It’s late” and “Goodbye, Daddy” (7). The sense of uneasiness would have been lost if the narrator was omniscient as the readers would not have felt as concerned by the story and it is this deliberate tone of awkwardness that brings the whole short story together.

    In conclusion, “Reunion” transports readers into the psyche of a young boy who is barely described, allowing readers to picture themselves in him. It is a melancholic short story touching the themes of alcoholism, family issues, and disappointment, which manages to remain lighthearted through the use of witty irony. Thanks to its indirect characterization and first-person narration, it also affords the readers the decency of treating them as intelligent beings by letting them draw their own judgments about the characters instead of being told what to think. The specific, withheld design of this narrative can therefore show the power of the minimalist short story to establish connection and understanding with readers dealing with parental neglect but without producing adverse reactions that may be caused by reliving the difficult details of such events. “Reunion” may therefore showcase literary minimalism as the ideal artistic form to use when exploring narratives of trauma.

Works Cited

Cheever, John. “Reunion.” Stories of John Cheever, Knopf, 1986.

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